The class of 2020 started their time at Lehigh during the 2016 election season and are graduating before the start of another significant election — a period of one of the most politically polarizing environments.
Charles Hitch, ‘20, a political science major, said he remembers people being scared of the uncertainty that President Donald Trump brought in 2016.
“I don’t think it changed the day-to-day campus climate, but it definitely sparked conversations between kids with differing views,” he said.
However, Hitch said he doesn’t believe his experience at Lehigh has been affected too much by Trump.
Peter Schroeter, ‘20, agreed with Hitch, but he said there has been an upside to the current administration.
“Leading up to the current pandemic, particularly, I feel our senior class has benefited from a strong job market,” Schroeter said. “I know a large number of friends and colleagues who were able to obtain employment upon graduation.”
With the upcoming election, Trump is running for re-election against Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee. Prior to recent weeks, there had been a historic number of candidates vying for the nomination in the Democratic Party.
“I think the election is going to be impacted heavily by coronavirus,” Hitch said. “Hopefully, Americans will be ready to debate political issues again soon because right now the virus is a distraction. I expect Trump to tout his handling of the virus and the economic recovery, and I expect Biden to announce many cabinet positions before the election in an effort to make him seem more well-rounded.”
Clayton Turnbull, ‘20, a political science major, said he worries about the polarization of America’s democracy.
According to The Washington Post, as of January 2019, the average presidential approval rating from an opposing party in a year hasn’t topped 13 percent since 2010.
“In recent years, the nation has seen a small increase in the polarization of a democracy that’s been exacerbated by the Trump administration, and many constituents feel forced to either condone Trump’s actions or strongly denounce them,” Turnbull said.
He said the political spectrum lacks a population that identifies in the middle of the two sides.
Turnbull said there have been multiple conversations from opposing sides over the past four years.
“Luckily, I believe a middle ground might begin to be found due to COVID-19,” Turnbull said. “It’s causing more and more Americans to question the government and realize they are far from perfect. This virus will affect the lives of people from across the entire political spectrum.”
While the coronavirus has come at a particularly important time right before the upcoming election, Turnbull said he thinks it will help Americans reflect on who they will choose to be their next president.
“I’m confident come Election Day, we will gather as a stronger nation to select the best individual to be sworn in as president next January,” Turnbull said.